29th January 2018 // Banksy // Art // Hull
It’s been the stuff of Jacobean tragedy, Shakespearean comedy, gritty Ken Loach-esque drama and finally a bit of DC Comic heroism in the last few days.
Whatever you think of Banksy, the mysterious street artist, or whether you don’t think it was one of his best works, or whateverthef*ck your stance on graffiti or street art in general, the buzz that’s been generated by the appearance of the mural on Scott Street bridge has been the stuff of legend. It has generated more debate, outrage, social media activity, joy, despair, and relief than the whole of 2017 put together. That’s not to take away from what Hull achieved last year, it’s just that the last five days have eclipsed the previous 365 by some distance. It’s divided people. It’s brought people together. There have been heroes and villains. It’s been good vs evil. Light against dark. A classic fairytale with a plot arc that would send the world’s best storytellers scuttling back to the drawing board.
And, of course, there have been those just chatting pure sh*t about something they don’t really care about on the internet. Those who were so quick to condemn on Thursday, surely, must have been won round a little as the action has unfolded.
As soon as it appeared on Thursday, the usual naysayers were quick to dismiss it as a fake. The distinctive trademark stencilling technique isn’t difficult to copy, for sure, but when Banksy’s official Instagram account posted it, there was no doubt. Banksy had been in Hull. Which is kind of a big deal. Whatever side of the fence you sit regarding Banksy’s work, even the most hardened critic couldn’t deny this.
The elusive Banksy’s works of art go for tens of thousands of pounds. Possibly the most high-profile artist working today whether you like it or not. Ironic given that no one seems to know who the f*ck Banksy is. Is it one person? Is it a man? A woman? A collective? There’s been speculation for years that it’s Robert del Naja, aka 3D from Massive Attack. It’s never been confirmed or denied, but one journalist linked the timing of Banksy murals with Massive Attack’s gigs around the globe which sent the internet into meltdown. It’s well-known that 3D himself was one of the country’s leading graffiti artists in the 80s, pioneering the style that Banksy cites as an ‘influence.’ It’s hard not to be tempted to join the dots.
Added to this, fellow graffiti artist and friend, Goldie, when being interviewed about Banksy, referred to him as ‘Robert,’ it’s almost too good to be true. You just really want it to be him. The style, the Politics, the fact both are from Bristol and the timing all point to the credibility of the theory.
Then there’s Robin Gunningham, who is also believed to be Banksy. But Goldie clearly said, ‘no disrespect to Robert, I think he’s a brilliant artist […]’
It’s this mystery that surrounds the artist that makes it so exciting that Hull was chosen for the latest Banksy artwork. I’m approaching it from a musical angle, I’d love it to be 3D, because Massive Attack were such an important influence on me, growing up, and their shared, overtly political stance would add weight to the argument. When del Naja was arrested in 2003 and was the subject of some very serious allegations, but released without charge due to zero evidence, many people have intimated this was a ‘warning’ not to be too vocal about politics. Again, the timing coincided with Banksy’s rise.
We could sit here all day and debate conspiracy theories. I have acquaintances that say they know who it is (Don’t we all?), and it’s not him. Personally, I believe it’s a collective of which del Naja is definitely a part of. It could be just a lone wolf, but that’s what makes it all the more enigmatic. Nobody really knows. Except King Robbo (ahem), his greatest rival, who claims to have punched his glasses off his face, but he has taken it to the grave.
When the mural appeared on Thursday last week, Hull’s social media activists went into overdrive. The piece, a child, wearing a cape and helmet, brandishing a wooden sword with a pencil attached to it, under the text, ‘Draw the raised bridge!’, immediately had people enrapt. Some people were quick to assume that Hull’s status as City of Culture was behind the choice of location. That may well be true. Another, more plausible reason, is that Hull voted, quite emphatically, to leave the EU, and the mural was clearly a comment on Brexit. Hull is, after all, a gateway to Europe, but the disused bridge remains up, denying freedom of movement. The obvious ‘pen is mightier than the sword’ imagery with the deliberate syntactic misappropriation of ‘raise the drawbridge,’ may well be a comment on us, as a city, being backwards. It may be all of these things or none of these things, but one thing is for certain, Banksy came to Hull to make a Brexit-related statement.
Image courtesy of Rich Sharp Wilson: www.facebook.com/groups/weirdretrohull/
What happened next was predictable, but it’s what happened over the following days that made it of global interest.
What do we do when we have grievances to air? We head to social media. Damn right!
It’s not a real Banksy!
Who was this vandal, coming to our city and having a pop at us? In broad daylight! Under our noses!
Wow! There’s a f*cking Banksy in Wincolmlee! We are honoured! And he’s bang on the money!
Those with the opposing opinions locked horns on Facebook quite vociferously. Thread posts ran into the thousands as people duelled it out. It was fascinating. It provoked such strong reactions from polar opposite ends of the spectrum. There was no middle ground. It was vandalism and anti-Hull or it was Art and should be respected as an artistic statement.
Whatever your stance, how exciting is it that a piece of art has provoked such a f*cking buzz? It’s fantastic! It was the number one topic of conversation from Friday to right now. It’s still raging on, but I’ll come to that later. What’s amazing is that it got people mega pumped-up. Yes, you got the usual complainers complaining about something they give zero f*cks about, but for the most part, people were engaging in intelligent debate. I’m by no means an authority on art or even street art, I have an interest, for sure, but it’s not an area of expertise, but it had my attention for four days.
Image courtesy of Jason Fanthorpe: www.facebook.com/JasonFanthorpePhotography/
There were people who were Uber critical of it on an aesthetic or thematic level.
‘Not his best work. He’s sold out.’
There were people who objected to it on a political level, citing ‘vandalism’ as the problem. Thinly disguised affront that they were being lambasted on their own doorstep for voting ‘leave.’ There were also those that were actually (not really) ‘outraged’ at the vandalism on a superficial level. On a disused bridge that they NEVER pass. There were those who were just excited to have a Banksy in Hull, and flocked there to get photos, and rightly so. A Banksy in Hull is a big deal. Some f*cker’s going to spoil it sooner or later, get it up on Instagram ASAP! There were those who saw it as a great piece of art, and social commentary. And those who were just happy that there was a genuine buzz around the city. That went national. Then global. There were those that are way too ahead of the game to give credit to mainstream Banksy. And those that can’t stand Banksy. All fair points, well made. Well, not always, but it’s the internet. Knee-jerk is the order of the day, isn’t it?
Then there were the bores who deliberately swim against the tide because they don’t want to be called ‘sheep’ yet still subscribe to the tribalism of punk, or whatever it is they hide under to make money.
In a staggeringly ill-judged act of folly, Tory (what else?) councillor, John Abbott, called for it to be removed, stating that, ‘I think that should be cleaned off. It should be photographed and the photograph kept because Banksy is not without talent […] to compare Banksy for example with some of the real art in the Ferens Art Gallery, which is quite mind-bogglingly brilliant at times, is, shall we say, to judge by two different sets of standards.’
Which triggered another heated debate. Quite what he was thinking, judging the mood of the public so appallingly badly, was as mind-boggling as the real art in the Ferens. There was a bit of an about-turn. If a Tory councillor wants it off, let’s reassess the situation.
The debate raged on all weekend, well into Sunday evening. Much more discourse than any other cultural happenings that have gone on over our tenure as City of Culture. Perhaps this was also intentional. It was always going to rub people up the wrong or right way, something of this magnitude.
The obvious happened. Not because of Hull, because of people. It got tagged. Then more text. More tags. Which is all part of it really. Banksy wouldn’t disapprove. King Robbo defaced plenty of Bansksys. I doubt he’d be butthurt about that.
Some people were starting to get on the moral high horse, with cries of ‘boring,’ wanting to move onto the next armchair assassin topic.
Then it happened.
Someone posted a picture on the hotbed of local social media activity, the One Hull of a City Facebook group. Some little sh*ts had painted over the mural. My first reaction was to think it was a photoshop job. But then more pictures came. My third reaction was that it was some half-arsed council-sanctioned act of sabotage. The internet raged, almost unanimously, at this act of vandalism. Vandalism on top of vandalism was definitely not ok. Everyone now seemed in agreement over this. Had Banksy actually unified the city? Not entirely, as it became a Hull thing.
‘City of Culture my a*se,’ rang out the predictable cries.
It’s not a Hull thing, it’s a d*ckhead thing. Graffiti gets sprayed over all the time. Banksys have been defaced on numerous occasions. But Hull started to look inwards. It’s not a Hull thing, we were unified in our condemnation of the act of probably a group of young divs, looking to cause a stir. The equivalent of flashing the queen. Taking a major event/talking point and eliciting more outrage. Attention-seeking individuals. Maybe even Banksy. Who knows? Street art is ephemeral by nature, that’s the point. Banksy himself has defaced other street art on countless occasions, but we were emotionally involved here, so we just wanted to engage in this street theatre a bit longer. I don’t even know if we have the right to get involved in the politics of it all.
What I do know, is that Hull got the hero it deserves.
Whilst people were busy bickering at this latest development, someone was busying themselves at the site. A couple of hours later, a photo surfaced of a lad up some ladders, revealing the original stencil, if somewhat slightly faded. He’d gone over and scrubbed the offending paint off the mural. My second reaction was ‘HERO.’ Like everyone else. Now Hull was unified in its appreciation. A local window cleaner had done a Batman, and was applauded by all. As real-time news goes, it was probably up there with the OJ Simpson car chase, or at the very least, that geezer who had a 19-hour stand-off with police on top of a roof on Bev Road last year.
The reason for my third reaction (see above) was how easy it was to remove. An amateur job.
As people clamour to get involved, Jason is the real hero here. Typically self-deprecating and very Hull, he just claimed he had the equipment to do it, being a window cleaner, and saw it as a matter of civic duty.
The internet went wild again, and it was long past people’s bedtimes. People were praising the lad deep into the night. And rightly so. And long may they do so.
Public opinion, it seemed, had done a complete U-Turn, and first thing Monday morning, it was announced by the council that a temporary protective layer was to be put over the stencil to protect it, so people ‘can continue to enjoy it.’ So, the council ensures ‘the public gets what the public wants.’ I’ll leave it there about that.
Much more will be written about this. It will continue and probably at some point, people will be bickering again, but for one glorious moment, Hull was unified. It took a while to get there; it was Shakespearean in scope, an epic tale of good overcoming evil in the end, despite the obstacles put in the way, as dramatic plot devices. The whole range of emotions has been exploited in spectacular fashion by a piece of art appearing, its defacement, and eventual salvation. It’s f*cking biblical, haha.
Whatever your position on any aspect of this historic moment, and it will take its place in local legend, there’s no denying that it engaged people, got people talking, inspired fiery passion, and in the end, I think, unified the city in ways we couldn’t have dreamed of. We’ve been very appreciative in our love of ‘culture’ over the last year, and maybe this was a perfectly-timed masterstroke, a piece of art inspiring so much ferocious passion. I think we can all be very proud of ourselves today.
It’s of no importance whether you liked it or not. Or if you like Banksy or not. Or whether you consider it vandalism. Or whether defacing street art is acceptable. As a piece of real-time performance Art, it was peerless.
I just really hope it was 3D, up for meetings to arrange a Massive Attack gig in Zeb’s this summer.